SADDLER: Tech means time to allow digital fishing licenses

Wednesday, January 31, 2018 - 11:34

By now, almost everyone’s got a smart phone. Even in Alaska, iPhones and Androids have become an indispensable part of life, helping us communicate, navigate, plan schedules, count calories, play games, and more. There is almost no aspect of life that smartphones don’t make easier and better.

So, as part of my work to make state government work better for Alaskans, I came up with a simple idea that will let us leverage modern technology to better enjoy the traditional Alaskan pleasures of hunting, fishing and trapping: digital licenses.

I have pre-filed House Bill 260, legislation that gives those who hunt, fish or trap in Alaska the option to carry and display their outdoor recreational license on a digital device, as well as in the traditional paper form.

State law now requires outdoorsmen (and women!) to carry paper licenses while enjoying licensed activities. But as anyone who’s ever tumbled into a stream while landing a king salmon, or sat in the rain in a duck blind knows, paper licenses can be damaged or lost at the worst possible time. And while a person might misplace their wallet, their smartphone is almost always within arm’s reach.

There is already some precedent for digital licenses in our state. Alaskans have been authorized since 2013 to display secure proof of auto insurance on a digital device, and the benefits of extending that kind of capability to outdoors recreational licenses are clear. Digital licenses could:

• Make it easier and more convenient for hunters, fishers and trappers to obtain and carry required licenses

• Improve compliance with state fish and wildlife management laws, by making it easier for enforcement officials to verify users are legal

• Make Alaska a more attractive tourist destination by making it easier for visitors to get licenses

• Save money for the state and private license vendors, by reducing or eliminating the expenses of printing equipment and supplies

• Help entice new participants in these activities, by lowering a barrier to entry

• Enhance licensing security with harder-to-counterfeit digital licenses

HB 260 could also point the way forward to even more sophisticated “apps” that could let managers share up-to-date and geographically-relevant information on opening dates and times, regulations, and hazards with outdoorsmen. For their part, outdoorsmen could share back real-time data on their harvest effort and success, and other relevant information that could mean faster and better fish and game management.

My bill has already generated a lot of interest. It’s been referred to the fisheries, resources, and finance committees, and has attracted both Republican and Democratic co-sponsors. I welcome public input on the bill, and hope my colleagues will vote for House Bill 260, to bring digital licensing to Alaska.

Improving hunting, fishing and trapping by authorizing digital licenses is a non-partisan issue everyone can support.

Rep. Dan Saddler is a Republican who has represented Chugiak-Eagle River and JBER in the Alaska State House since 2011, and serves as Minority Floor Leader.

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